The Cartographer’s Ink

by Okla Elliott

108 Pages, 5˝ x 8˝

Library of Congress Control Number:  2014945804

ISBN:  978-1-63045-010-6

Publication Date:  08/25/2014

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In Okla Elliott's first full-length poetry collection,The Cartographer's Ink, he seamlessly integrates history, philosophy, science, and personal narrative to form a literary geography that is at once erudite and accessible. Ranging from rural Kentucky to post-Soviet Russia to ancient Egypt, these poems invite the reader on a unique aesthetic and intellectual journey.


Okla Elliott possesses a capacious mind that here integrates his complicated and informative personal geography, philosophical investigation, a touching lyricism, and an attractive sense of humor. The result is a brilliant collection about "the light here." The light is caustic with war, striated with love, sharply focused on our past, present, and future. "The Philosophy Student" persuades us that "[t]here is no convincing proof that we have any right to happiness," but because thinking actually occurs in his poems, they are tremendously exciting—and happy-making—to read.

—Kelly Cherry, former poet laureate of Virginia and author of Hazard and Prospect: New and Selected Poems

What hunger there is in these poems! What powers of mind, yet a big heart as well, beating and beating. Wolves, Russian proverbs, an old woman in a Berlin flower shop whistling a song the poet doesn't know: anything and everything is fair game. Oh, and along the way, Okla Elliott pretty much reinvents the sestina&mdashyou try writing one that uses "icky" and "Solzhenitsyn" as end words.

—David Kirby, finalist for the National Book Award and author of The House on Boulevard St: New and Selected Poems

"I wanted/the poetry of love// not the lowly prose/of inevitable and undeniable" writes Okla Elliott in The Cartographer's Ink. Seeking love and poetry, this impressive first book ranges across memory, history, geography, and philosophy with a wider imagination than any poet writing today. But it never gets lost in its erudition because the search for love and poetry becomes, in Elliott's hands, inevitable and undeniable.

—Andrew Hudgins, finalist for the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize

The Cartographer's Ink is a groundswell of "strange danger" where "the wet bloom of meat and bone" converge with Tesla, Newton, and Kierkegaard, while a few scenes over, the philosophy student takes on Chernobyl. Prepare yourself for journey-by-poet-pen battling the Humbaba, imbibing on the spirits of several dynasties, passing through the needle's eye with "Lines from Kim Ch'un-Su" and returning us to "World enough / Death enough / Applause for our many talents."

Okla Elliott does not spare our sensitivities on any level. Like the embalmer's son, he will "dangle the corpse to drain." History, philosophy, and physics provide the landscape for adventure and interrogation alike; this journey in your hands, compressed trees and dusted ink by machine, evidences the human essence, "Want is a stone / shaped under this pressure."

—Amy King, author of Slaves Do These Things and I Want to Make You Safe

Okla Elliott's work intersects poetry and philosophy—seamlessly and richly. The Cartographer's Ink reveals an original, moving voice. These are poems to be read and re-read and carried long in mind.

—Stephen Kuusisto, author of Letters to Borges and Only Bread, Only Light

The poems in Okla Elliott's debut volume, The Cartographer's Ink, chart—with linguistic dexterity and curious attentiveness—the intersecting geographical lines of space, time, and an always-already disintegrating self. Here, the poem is a three-dimensional map networking the fleeting yet nonetheless powerful personal ephemera of memory, emotion, and place (interwoven with cultural, familial, and erotic histories), onto an axis richly palimpsest with philosophical and scientific imagination. Elliott’s poems zoom and slide through their various spectrums with exhilaratingly dizzying connect-the-dots that collide micro with macro—simultaneously paying homage to the immense and unlikely potential of intellect and imagination, yet never losing sight of the memento mori of the wine-filled skull, the quick and lovely sparks of a body soon to return to the cosmos.

—Lee Ann Roripaugh, winner of the National Poetry Series and author of Dandarians